Despite objections from Democratic leaders, a bill protecting free speech on Granite State college campuses passed the closely divided New Hampshire House with a solid, bipartisan 206-169 majority.

Under HB 1305, “any member of the campus community who wishes to engage in non-commercial expressive activity on campus shall be permitted to do so freely, as long as the person’s conduct is not unlawful and does not materially and substantially disrupt the functioning of the public institution of higher education.”

Reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions can still be applied.

“We cannot and should not punish people based on the content of their lawful speech, regardless of how repugnant we may find it,” said the bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Daniel Popovici-Muller (R-Windham). “Free speech is the cornerstone of our nation. Tampering with it is foolish.”

Also speaking on the bill’s behalf was Petersborough Democrat Rep. Jonah Wheeler.

“There’s a problem in our schools right now that students have been reporting for a long time. Their free speech has been hampered…by college administrators who are trying their hardest to keep things nice,” Wheeler said.

“Unfortunately, for those who want to keep things nice and calm and respectful, sometimes freedom of speech requires us to be a little bit passionate. It requires us to say something that the majority of the people in the room might disagree with. In fact, that’s what protest is all about.”

The vast majority of Wheeler’s fellow Democrats, however, did not agree.

“This bill fuels a divisive environment on campus and violates our state’s anti-discrimination laws and federal law, such as Title IX,” said Rep. David Luneau (D-Hopkinton), who serves on the House Education Committee. Taxpayers and families expect better.”

Across the U.S., speakers have been either shouted down, confronted with threats, or prevented from appearing on campus by students and faculty who claim offense at their viewpoints. The speakers have disproportionately been figures on the political right. Pollster Nate Silver analyzed data presented by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) and concluded that the danger to free speech is real.

“College students aren’t very enthusiastic about free speech,” Silver wrote. “That’s true, in particular, for liberal or left-wing students, who are at best inconsistent in their support of free speech and have very little tolerance for controversial speech they disagree with.”

A survey released in 2022 found 64 percent of college students believe the political climate on their campus prevents people from speaking freely.

Luneau also criticized the bill because it requires any “benefits or privileges” that are made available to any student organization be made available to all of them.

“It requires our state colleges and universities to recognize student organizations that discriminate on the basis of race, gender, religion, and political ideology,” Luneau said. “And the bill would require UNH and the other colleges and universities to fund these groups.”

Luneau did not mention any specific campus organizations he finds offensive.

Popovici-Muller pushed back against the accusation his bill violates anti-discrimination laws.

“To take that claim seriously, you’d have to believe that the [New Hampshire] ACLU endorsed this bill two years in a row because they just didn’t notice it was dismantling our anti-discrimination laws,” Popovici-Muller said. “You’d have to believe that the director of the [New Hampshire Attorney General’s] Civil Rights Unit, after a thorough review of this bill, also failed to notice.”

Popovici-Muller also defended the common practice of allowing campus organizations that have membership requirements that “discriminate.”

Opponents of the bill, he said, “consistently confuse discrimination — which is legal and good — with illegal discrimination, which is based on belonging to a protected class, which is bad and illegal. UNH discriminates against every student they reject. Should they accept everybody who applies?

“Does the school discriminate against athletically challenged students by not letting a five-foot student who weighs a hundred pounds play nose tackle? Or center on the basketball team? No? How dare you discriminate!”

Americans for Prosperity-New Hampshire (AFP-NH) supported HB 1305 and praised its passage.

“This is a signal to students from the Granite State and beyond that New Hampshire’s higher education system prizes critical thinking and deep learning,” said Deputy State Director Sarah Scott. “We urge the New Hampshire Senate to take up this bill and send it to Gov. Sununu for his signature.”